Do 12 Step Programs Really Work?

12 step co-ed group

Today 12 step programs are the ‘go to’ gold standard for sex addiction. But, do 12 Step Programs really work?

AA’s success as an organization has not been matched by a research record. After 75 years of existence, scientific study had been unable to confirm AA’s effectiveness. There certainly is a correlation between attendance at AA meetings and success in recovery. However, what remains unknown is whether these successes would have occurred anyway.[note]*Conflict between 12-Step Anonymous Groups and Science Continued A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.[/note]

Of the thousands of stories I have heard from women who are in a relationship with a sex addict (I use this term because it is familiar but sex addiction is not a valid medical or psychological disorder) I have never heard a story of a sex addict recovering and stopping the unwanted sexual behaviors. Most of the sex addicts in these relationships did attend 12 Step Programs for varying amounts of time.

In my own experience my husband cried and pleaded for chance after chance and attended several 12 Step Programs on a regular basis for over six years. During that time I found out that he would frequently call a prostitute to make an appointment, go to the 12 Step meeting and meet the prostitute after the meeting. Most of the sex addicts in his groups either never stopped their acting out or did so for only short periods of time. These sex addicts would lie to their partners about their behaviors and use the 12 Step meetings as proof that they had changed. Behaviors like this are the norm rather than the exception.

In my opinion 12 Step Programs provide a cover for the sex addict’s behaviors and enable these activities because there are no consequences and no cross talk. A sex addict can ‘confess’ their acting out behaviors in a meeting, sometimes describing illegal activities involving child abuse and/or child pornography and the group will say nothing except, ‘Thank you for sharing’.

One of the most appalling aspects of the 12 Step Programs for sex addicts is that they are co-ed. Participants share their contact information with each other to facilitate support–someone to call when you need it. I find this simply absurd. My husband was not the only person who used those lists for easy sexual hook ups.

Professionals who run sex addiction treatment centers use the 12 Step Programs and recommend clients to continue after treatment, yet they have failed to produce any verifiable scientific studies to back up their success rate claims.

I am asking these professionals; specifically Dr. Patrick Carnes, Robert Weiss, Dr.Stefanie Carnes, Dr. Milton Magness, Alexandra Katehakis, Dr. Linda Hatch and any other CSAT or sex addiction professional to come forward with verifiable, evidence based scientific research that shows that their treatment plan works; not statistics that are only based on anecdotal evidence that is often unreliable because various forms of bias may affect the collection or presentation of that evidence .




10 thoughts on “Do 12 Step Programs Really Work?”

  1. “I have never heard a story of a sex addict recovering and stopping the unwanted sexual behaviors.”
    WOW , is that a typo or did you really mean to write that?

  2. Yes, I wrote that and that is exactly what I meant.

    If anyone has any real data to prove otherwise, I would like to see it. By real data I mean that which is not based on anecdotes or opinions or surveys based simply on the words of sex addicts.

  3. @Joshua

    Stopping… define stopping…
    for how long?
    does xyz count?
    How about abc?
    If I did it when nobody was looking or on my birthday, does it count?

    Very concerned about what “sobriety” really means when it’s concerned with what should be a natural and healthy part of life. Our bodies don’t need alcohol or street drugs. We can effectively quit those. Can the brain be rewired from the disordered “sex addiction” activities to “healthy sex life” activities or does any kind of “sobriety” just mean COMPLETE abstinence and monk-like-living?

  4. I am married to a self-proclaimed-sex-addict. His claim to fame: He no longer has ‘pleasure’ for his .’higher power.’ In fact he no longer ‘worships pleasure’ at all. He was not very happy when he learned I could see absolutely no difference in any part of his behavior or attitude towards me after his new ‘higher power’ awakening. After years (and years) of 12-stepping, he needed some ‘additional parental controls’ that targeted dating sites. Whoopsie, another ‘slip’ there, but his ‘sobriety date’ doesn’t change. That doesn’t seem very AA-like to me.

  5. My husband went to Gentle Path in January of last year, 2 weeks after DDay. We met Patrick Carnes because he happened to be there that week. He was encouraging the “peers” to all volunteer to participate in his longitudinal study because he has been working on getting sex addiction into the DSM. They failed to do so this round but are hoping for the next iteration. You hit on an important point and one that Carnes himself dodged when I asked him in group: what is the data that suggests recovery is possible? What is the percentage of relapse? He could not give us these answers. At GP they parse substance addiction from process addiction. Meaning, sex addiction is process addiction much like anorexia. I believe they are moving away from the co-dependent model, and even away from 12 step programs at GP, and focusing more on trauma work and particularly childhood trauma.
    I attended Family Week and it was brutal. I was wholly unprepared for what I heard, what occurred and how addict-focused the process was. The entire thing felt like a set-up to keep the spouses/family engaged to help the addict. But there was very little in way of helping the spouse to really understand what just happened to their lives, and the extent of the trauma that even Family Week invoked. At least for me and the other women in our cohort it became this horrible unfolding of the truth of what your life was about to look like. They want you to have hope, but that hope is lodged into family structures, accountability to the spouse and home life, and a steady feed of your role and how you can help as the spouse. I felt completely manipulated by the process and was angry that this guy was getting his equine therapy and kumbaya moments, and I was being told how serious my “role” would be in HIS healing. It’s a pretty tall order for the spouses to fill. I understand the need of GP to humanize the experience, but they act as if there is no agency what so ever for these guys. Their brains are altered. They can’t make decent decisions. They disassociate, they compartmentalize, they aren’t capable of empathy, they don’t know what love means. It’s eroticized rage because of covert sexual abuse by his mother. Oh, and your standing by this guy is key to him getting well. Really? I just had my world blow apart, see that he hasn’t paid the taxes since 2014, spent $400,000 on prostitutes in 7 years, moved a sex worker into my home as a kind of surrogate wife while I was away on business, and I am to have compassion and understanding. And this is the story I knew before full disclosure (which they no longer do at GP because it was too much for their staff to handle when so many spouses or the addict themselves attempted suicide. True). And to return to my point above, all without any data that suggests any of this works.
    We did hear while at GP that the suicide rate is high for SA’s (ah, back to the shame) and there was a suicide of one of my husband’s peers just last week “related to his addiction.” (There is so much euphemism in this dark little world of SA, but that is another post, I fear). So they keep you in that loop as the person who is to stand by them because they know you love this person, try to normalize it like cancer (though unlike cancer, there is agency here), and then walk the line between you being co-dependent or not. Obviously we are freaked out and don’t want our spouse to commit suicide. But where is the care for the wife in this scenario? I can say Family Week was one of the worst weeks of my life; and full disclosure the darkest day I’ve ever had. This SA thing is ugly and painful and there is just not enough support for the wives as far as I can see.
    There are so MANY conflicting messages in this process that my head is spinning. My therapist, friends and family all say leave. My women’s group (for spouses of SA’s), marriage counselor, and his CSAT, all say he is curable and I should stay. Meanwhile, his actions say to me he is slipping back over into his behavior, only now he has more sophisticated tools and a whole language he can use that makes it look like he is on track. Mind bending.
    I am not sure why I am posting any of this or if any of this is helpful to others out there. I have entered numbness. Like I just can’t see anything more, or continue to be freaked out, or to trust various professionals. After a year of intensive therapy for both of us, with my husband spending upwards of 9 hours a week in various therapies (see, he is trying and making progress his peers, therapist, group believes), and having spent close to $100K in out-of-pocket medical toward all of this, I don’t see any hope. Does anyone believe there is hope that they get better? I only meet people whose husbands continually “relapse” and no one who looks happy. I am deeply confused and ambivalent. Joann, any thoughts?

  6. I was told some 20 years ago that unlike other addictions there is no hope with this one. I lost so many years hoping for change and indeed made myself very ill with severe blood pressure. In my limited experience i have never heard of any recovery.
    My daughters life was blighted hearing the rows and also with what she found out about her father. When i look back (i am now 66) how i wish i had taken the advice and got myself and my daughter out on discovery.
    If you have stumbled on this please believe me he will not change there is no long term recovery. You are worth more.

  7. THANK YOU for sharing this. My husband is currently there at Gentle Path at the Meadows. He checked himself in on June 8 after I discovered his Twitter account where he was sending porn photos of himself wearing a chastity cage on his penis and ball gag in his mouth taken in his office (He is an attorney) to a female “Domme” that he has been in a “relationship” with for the last year. I told his family and his dad paid for the facility. Since he has been gone I took his computer and uncovered that he has been living this sick double life as a submissive sex slave and female cross dresser since I met him 18 years ago. I am in the process of working with my attorney to serve him divorce papers upon exit of the facility. The family coordinator therapists there a full of shit and do nothing for the spouses or children. I have made it clear I am leaving him and so they stopped communicating with me. Hearing your story only validated what I have thought. And my husband has spend over $600k in 10 years on this I have recently discovered. His dad has been secretly giving him money for years. You should very smart and brave. We are worth so much more than these motherfuckers are putting us through and NO ONE deserves this especially not from a husband who is supposed to be a partner and keep you safe. Saying prayers for you 💚 you are not at all alone.

  8. My husband told me he was addicted to porn on 11/23/20. He could have told me he was an alien in a human suit and I would have been just as shocked beyond belief. I.Had.No.Idea. I was aware of his ED issues, sexual intimacy issues, and overall backwardness in the sex department. He, of course, lied and manipulated me as to the cause of these issues. I believed him and was supporting him.

    I have not yet had full disclosure but recently he disclosed, because I asked him directly, when we first met he masturbated as he was sexually fantasizing about my daughter. She would have been 16 when he first met her. She’s 22 now. The level of disgust and repulsion I feel I can’t even describe. I feel like I let my daughter down by exposing her to this man that I believed was so kind and compassionate. I just found out about this 2 days ago.
    Each time a “truth bomb” goes off it costs me a day of work, days of obsessing and days to get myself back to some semblance of centeredness. He had told me on Jan. 3 he was finally committed to telling me the full truth no matter the consequences. I believe him now.

    I am now closer to making my decision to divorce him. I am doing my best to be rationale about this and not be impulsive with my feelings. I have done tons of reading on sex addiction/porn addiction. I’ve read how the brain changes with any addiction and how it can go back to “normal” but will still need regular “maintenance”. I am also a licensed therapist who specializes in addictions. I have never worked with a porn addict before.

    I am learning that sex addiction is a whole different beast. I, too, have stumbled upon the 5% recovery rate and couldn’t find anything to refute it. I also believe in god all things are possible. I’m so torn. He’s seeing a CSAT 2xs per week, SA at least 1x per week, has a sponsor, has already worked his first step, has attends marriage counseling with a CSAT, from the very beginning has taken 100% responsibility and has never blamed me for his choices. He does everything I have demanded or asked him to do. And, like I stated above with his recent disclosure about my daughter, I believe he is now committed to complete honesty.

    These characteristics he is currently showing are parts of the man I thought I knew: takes personal responsibility, doesn’t give up, and commitment. Although he blew the last one when he broke our wedding vows. Anyway, it’s confusing for me.

    All the stuff I have read on the internet from the women who have stayed sound miserable and their husband keeps up the addiction. Surely to god, there is one couple out there that made it in a healthy way?? Please?

    I’m obviously struggling with my current reality that my marriage might be over. That this man I held so dearly in my heart broke all my trust and injured my deeply.

    I’ll quit rambling. I’m in the very beginning stages of this and my head is spinning. I can’t believe this is my life right now.

  9. Lotus24,
    First off, let me just say you are worth more than you know! And from what I’m reading, I’m sending you a virtual hug. The life of a betrayed spouse of a SA is one so challenging and complex, our heads are constantly on a perpetual swivel!, at least that’s my opinion.

    DDay for me was in 2019 (June) just one month after we moved into our newly purchased, new house. We hadn’t even made the first mortgage payment! I wont go into the details, but needless to say, my world fell to pieces, just as everyone else has felt, I’m certain. I immediately told him to get out; didn’t care where he went, but he was not coming back into the house. He left that day. Six month later, we started our 12-step program for couples, together!, and we are still together. We have been in our program for over a year, and changes (so far) are being shown. Now, I’m NOT saying it’s been easy at all; it’s been hurtful, challenging, scary, emotional, and a shit load of hard work. And, I’ll be honest – why the hell do I have to do the work?? I am not the one that has the issue!! I have always been one that has known my inner-self from a young age. And yes, the comments above about how we women should be the supportive ones, are certainly true. There are days I wonder why I am still here, but those times are certainly less frequent than they were a year ago.

    We have been married for 17 years. We do not have children, and we both have a commitment to do what we can to make this marriage work. NOTE the word BOTH. But I am a realist as well. My personal path and progression is just that – mine. His is his. What we bring to the table for each other is only what we can do. I am assertive in my “boundaries” and it is known to him my walking away point. If you don’t speak it, and don’t follow through, nothing changes.

    I say all of this to say – bottom line it’s YOUR decision and it’s YOUR timing as to when. And only YOU will know when that is.

    -In the name of Sisterhood and for all we women are,

Leave a Comment